My 10 Favorite Old Poems for a New Year

I’ve written poems dealing with social media in my last two posts, but in preparing for the new year, I thought I would post the titles for some of my favorite poems that pre-date social media and have had a great impact on me.

1. “Metrical Feet” by Samuel T. Coleridge
This poem was written as a gift to Coleridge’s son as a gift of poetry, teaching him the importance of form as well as art in delivery. Just as ancient Greeks used poetic forms to worship and to convey emotionally charged messages, we must not neglect the power of words in poetry to draw us closer to that which we passionately and dearly love.

2. “Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne
This poem has taken on multiple significances as I have approached it with different tones. As I coached one of my former students to recite this poem, I had her consider a tone of mockery. I have also considered it from a victorious angle and from an angle of one who speaks out of fear in defiance of a formidable foe. I enjoy how this poem changes in meaning as I approach it from different perspectives, which my dear mentor Dr. Suellen Alfred told me it would when I first encountered it.

3. “In the Basement of the Goodwill Store” by Ted Kooser
What I love about this poem is the astute observation that illustrates the mundane as something nostalgic and powerful. When I memorized this poem for recitation to my classes, I found myself actually envisioning the scene as I spoke. I particularly appreciate the multi-sensory images and figurative language that connect very unlike experiences to one another.

4. “The Pilgrim” by John Bunyan
This poem reflects the same sentiment in brief as his longer work Pilgrim’s Progress, which accentuates the attitude and disposition of the pilgrim towards eternal rewards rather than a mere focus on the temporal. This is quite empowering to those who walk in faith as the pilgrim does.

5. “Auld Lang Syne” by Robert Burns
I would be somewhat negligent to leave this poem off the list though many know it only as a traditional tune to be sung at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s. The sad truth of this poem is that it mainly suggests a jovial drinking of draughts and pints in remembrance of the past, which is not something in which I partake, but to leave it off the list almost seems an omission of the obvious, and I can appreciate the reflection on the “days gone by” for which it is named.

6. “The Days Gone By” by James Whitcomb Riley
In a segue from a popularized toasting song to a more vivacious reflection on the memories of the past, I must point out that this poem, with a whimsical singsong quality, has the pleasant effect of a reminiscence of a favorite childhood scent or a simple spring breeze, and for this, I am appreciative.

7. “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson
This poem is written with such zeal and energy that one can hardly dismiss its power. Johnson writes from a perspective that explores people who have actually suffered and trusted in God in spite of their suffering. His poem is a battle cry for victory, with hope and security in the faith with which believers endure hardships.

8. “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke
Perhaps the first poem that I truly analyzed, this poem carries both a dark reminder of the selfishness of indulgent adults and the naive enjoyment by their children of their time shared despite the unpleasant realities. I remember reading this poem first line by line, exploring the emotional impact, and then as a whole piece. I still enjoy analyzing this poem in this way and compare it with Huck Finn’s relationship with Pap, which unfortunately is not only realized in fictional works.

9. “Oh, Oh, You Will Be Sorry for That Word” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Though this poem never overtly addresses the “word,” it is clear that some word has deeply hurt this woman to the point that she would be willing to feign happiness only until she has the opportunity to escape. This reminds me of the importance of what we say to others and the long-lasting effects of such words.

10. “A Hymn to God the Father” by John Donne (again)
I tried to resist the urge to list another poem by John Donne, but this poem has a message that reverberates with me about my total depravity and need for a Holy Savior, Jesus Christ. I truly fail over and over due to my disobedience and my undeserved pride. I particularly enjoy the final stanza of this poem, in which Donne reminds those who have believed on the Son of God that they need “fear no more.”

Poetry can move us, and I am moved by these poems. If poems inspire us to live out their messages and to ponder things greater than ourselves, they are worth our time. It is for this reason that I read poetry, I write poetry, and I love poetry.

Have a blessed new year, and perhaps some poetry will inspire you in the next year.